Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vocabulary bleg

I'm working on a translation project, and I'm getting deeper and deeper into that zone where I understand perfectly well what the original means, but I'm having a hard time remembering what the appropriate words are in English. (Somehow the more languages I get into my head, the less I can correctly use any of them.)

So I turn to the blogosphere. First, an easy-ish one: in English, is a female marquis most appropriately called a "marquise" or a "marchioness"?

Second, there's a Portuguese word recolhimento, which describes a place that would take in women and give them a basic education and a place to live, usually until they were old enough to marry. Its name comes from the verb meaning "to gather," so it's a place that gathers people in. I can't for the life of me think of a corresponding term in English: it's not a poor-house, because the women weren't necessarily poor; it's not an orphanage, because they often had parents; it wasn't exactly a finishing school, because (at least to me) that suggests building on a previous education as well as preparation for entry into an elite world, which wasn't necessarily the case here. It was really a mix of all of these things, with a religious element (but it wasn't a convent, becasue they didn't take vows). Is there any word that would suggest this, or am I stuck writing a long awkward footnote to explain this term?

Thanks for any suggestions!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The power of positive thinking

I went to donate blood this afternoon, and as always, they do the little test first to make sure you have enough iron. Unfortunately the minimum requirement for blood donors is 12, and my blood only registered a 10.3. I was disappointed, because of course they do the iron test *after* half an hour of other questions like Have you recently played with typhoid-ridden rats? and Do you regularly inject yourself with other people's bodily fluids?, and besides, it frustrates me to not be able to give blood when I'm a perfectly healthy human being.

So the nice blood guy said "Well, we can try again on the other hand if you want... there's not much of a chance it will be different, but sometimes if your hands are cold it can register a bit low." So I said sure, what the heck, I have plenty more fingers. Besides, the second test was on my right arm, which is my tennis arm, so of course all the strong blood's going to be on that side. So we both started joking about focusing my iron and the power of positive thinking and so forth... until the little machine beeped, and the guy's eyes got huge, and he said "Um, I don't know what you did, but now you're at 13.7."

Cool, so now I can give blood. And just to be on the safe side I spent the rest of the day thinking World peace! World peace! World peace! just in case I have magical powers I was not previously aware of.

Anyway, all of that reminded me of a habit I used to have of making a wish at 11:11. If you're not familiar with this, it's sort of like wishing on stars, for the digital age - if you happen (and it must be by chance) to see a digital clock just when it shows the time 11:11, you can make a wish.

I don't know if this is part of the official 11:11 lore, but the habit I developed if I happened to catch that magic moment was to stare at the clock, not averting my gaze until it turned to 11:12, and focusing the entire time on my wish. For a long time I made a regular practice of this, and the best thing about it was that it taught me to always have a wish at the ready, so that I didn't waste big chunks of that precious minute trying to decide what to wish for.

And, interestingly enough, if you are frequently nudged to evaluate what things in your life you most want to wish for, that does wonders for helping you clarify what it is you really want.

A couple of years ago, What Now wrote a really lovely post along these lines (I'm so happy that I actually saved this reference); she wasn't talking about the 11:11 phenomenon, but she has a wonderful description (from her partner D.) of what she calls the background work of the brain: "Our brains are always engaged in background tasks; if we ask ourselves a particular question at least once every day, the brain starts to gather information on that question automatically throughout each day."

I think there's an awful lot that we do to train ourselves to think in particular ways. Squadratomagico just wrote about a couple she knows who have the habit of constantly denigrating everything around them, and I thought boy, do I know those people. They live in the same world I do, but they've trained themselves to pick out all the things they don't like about it. Others train themselves to look for any possible slight to themselves, any sign that they're not measuring up to the expectations of others; still others get in the habit of looking for opportunities. It's all in what you teach your brain to do. (Either What Now or PPB - unfortunately I didn't save this link, but I'll be happy to give credit if anyone remembers - once used the example of setting your computer password to be something you want to focus on, so that you're reminded of it every day. I loved that.)

I used to be in the habit of thinking about what I most wanted, which kept me attentive to the kind of person I wanted to be and the kind of direction I wanted to head in. I've slipped on that lately, to the extent that when our dean recently asked me what my longer-term career plans were, I didn't have a very clear answer at the ready. I know what I want to do today, and this week, but with my life? Haven't had time to think about that lately.

But heck, if I can boost my blood iron, maybe I can be a little more conscious about steering my life too. I don't feel like I'm off track, particularly; I just don't know what my track is at the moment, and if I saw a clock turning 11:11, I'd waste a good part of that minute trying to figure out what to wish for. Time to get back in the habit.

What would you wish for?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008


I have a million posts I've written in my head, but haven't been at the computer long enough to write any... research is going full speed, interrupted by weekends out of town and away from the internets. So a quick set of RBOC to keep this blog from disappearing altogether.

* Uno de enero, dos de febrero... happy San Fermines! I've been out of the US on July 4 for several years, so I hardly even remember it anymore. But San Fermines are a blast. (this is what most of you are more likely to know as "the running of the bulls.") It, like pretty much everything else in Spain, has its own little catchy song, which will be stuck in my head for weeks.

* Spaniards are just beside themselves these days: the national team won the EuroCup, Pau Gasol made it to the NBA finals with the Lakers, Contador won the Giro de Italia and Valverde's leading in the Tour de France, and now Nadal at Wimbledon. Score!

* My sister-in-law is unfailingly awesome. My two brothers-in-law are both kind of jerks. We've just gotten back from a weekend trip together, and the LWI keeps saying "The one thing I know is that I am never, ever going to travel anywhere with my brothers again."

* As part of the weekend trip, we went to the city where my father-in-law went on his honeymoon 53 years ago. He remembered the neighborhood where they stayed, and we went past the hotel... which was still there, completely unchanged. We were afraid this would be a little too much for him (since my MIL died last summer) but he was really sweetly happy.

* I have a million photos to post, if I ever get around to it. They include pictures of my growing collection of T-Shirts That Say Completely Absurd Things in Mangled English.

* I'm ready to go home. I love being here, and there are a million things I know I'll miss as soon as we're back. But I've decided that I have a certain capacity for living with my in-laws, a reserve of flexibility and patience and the ability to be constantly around lots of people and to sleep about an hour a night less than I'm used to and to speak in another language, and that reserve lasts about seven weeks. It's not Spain itself that drains me; if the LWI and I take a few days off on our own, the reserve fills back up a bit. But by the eighth week I'm pretty frazzled, and I start acting like a four-year-old.

* Fortunately we're heading home on Thursday. I plan to sleep for about three days straight, and then you can expect to see me start whining about how I wish we were still here.